18 August 2003

Statism as a new religion

Back in 1932 Philip E. Wentworth was intelligent enough to recognize the social consequences of a general loss of faith -- consequences which he regretted but feared were inevitable.

When religion begins to lose its hold upon the minds of men, as it is now doing with us, a peculiar thing happens. The Church is driven by its own weakness to shift its social responsibilities to other shoulders. Now there is only one other institution strong enough to take on new burdens in such an emergency, and it is an institution which, like the Church, has always been engaged in forcing a measure of parental control upon men who either would not or could not control themselves. This is the State. As religion becomes inoperative, governments are overworked.

This sounds rather like what happened in Quebec at the time of the Quiet Revolution of 40 years ago. Prior to that time schools, hospitals, labour unions, charities, &c., were all operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Quite suddenly, beginning in 1960, all that changed. Within a very few years church attendance had plummeted, the church institution was forced to withdraw from these fields, and its place was taken by the provincial government. This marked the beginning of Quebec nationalism as well.

In contrast to Wentworth's interpretation, religion itself does not die, although particular religions may go into decline. A better way to understand the phenomenon is to note that when someone abandons a particular faith, he or she adopts another, secular ideological faith, which is my argument in Political Visions and Illusions.

I can't help wondering what eventually became of Wentworth. A google search doesn't turn up much beyond the Atlantic article. I somehow doubt he is still alive. And since his name does not turn up in a search of the Social Security death records, it's possible he did not even reach three score years and ten. Did he keep to his apostasy or did he return to the faith of his youth, a not unusual occurrence with one-time apostates? If anyone knows the answer, I'd love to find out.

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